by Max Brantley
I got an e-mail last night that said Eureka Springs had become the first city in the state to provide city employee health insurance coverage for domestic partners of the workers — same sex or different sex. Eureka, of course, is the only city in the state with a domestic partnership registry, a fact of little legal consequence but of great symbolic consequence to its reputation as a city that welcomes, even embraces, all. (PS — The city contributes only to workers' coverage; partners coverage are a responsibility of the family.)
It would not be the first public agency in Arkansas to provide domestic partner coverage. The pioneers include the Central Arkansas Library System, where Director Bobby Roberts has always said the coverage is an incentive for workers. Happy workers — unburdened of worries about care for loved ones — tend to be better workers.
Jacqueline Froelich has reported on the news for KUAF, the public radio station in Fayetteville.
Here's the release I received from Michael Walsh in Eureka Springs:
The only city in Arkansas with a Domestic Partnership Registry today became the first city in the state to provide health care coverage for the domestic partners of municipal workers.
The city’s insurance provider, the Arkansas Municipal League, notified the city that beginning January 1, 2011 both same- and opposite-sex partners of city workers will have the same access to health insurance as legal spouses.
The announcement culminated a year-long campaign by residents of the Northwest Arkansas tourist town which in June 2007 became the first city in the state to enact a Domestic Partnership Registry ordinance to officially recognize unmarried couples in committed relationships.
“Once again, Eureka Springs is leading by example, this time in the realm of workplace equality,” said Michael Walsh, who helped lead the effort to expand health care coverage. “Marital status shouldn’t be the deciding factor in access to ‘family plan’ insurance. Legally wed or not, all city workers should get the same employment benefits, including access to health insurance for their partners.”
Expanding the definition of “family dependent” was “the right thing to do,” Eureka Springs Mayor Dani Joy wrote to the Municipal League in August, just weeks before the city council passed a resolution endorsing domestic partnership insurance coverage.
“I am aware as well as you that some will construe this as a ‘gay issue’,” said Joy. “But the reality is that there are many heterosexual couples who chose to live together in a committed relationship - as a family - without entering into the civil contract of marriage,. These folks face the same ‘family’ challenges every day, not the least of which is providing health care for themselves and for those who are dependent on them. . . . the definition of family is at the center of our concerns.”
Joy and city Transit Director Lamont Richie met with the Arkansas Municipal League Nov. 4 to lobby for a more inclusive health insurance policy.
Today’s announcement that their efforts were successful “is a huge step forward,” said Richie.
“And though only employees of the City of Eureka Springs will be able to take advantage of it for now,” he said, “other communities in the state may be encouraged to adopt their own Domestic Partnership Registries as a means of providing health insurance benefits to domestic partners of their employees.”